The wide array of world flags draped in front of the bleachers on the south end of Morrison Stadium is a distinctive tradition of the Jays Army, Creighton University’s student supporters group. There is a flag for each nationality represented on the team’s roster with the Vatican City’s flag thrown in occasionally for good measure (Creighton is a Catholic university after all).
The Creighton men’s soccer team, the #1 team in the country for the past six weeks, is the only remaining undefeated and untied team in the NCAA. Creighton is a college soccer powerhouse. It is a perennial conference champion, is regularly selected for the NCAA tournament, and has made it to multiple College Cups (college soccer’s Final Four). However this year’s squad just feels different. This team’s talent, consistent performance, and overall cohesiveness seems transcendent, unique even in the rich history of the program.
What has made this team so dominant? Could it be the lack of significant injuries (knock on wood) to date? Could it be this summer’s training trip to Europe? Maybe it’s superior coaching? A favorable schedule? While all of these things certainly play a factor in the team’s strength, I’d argue a large part of Creighton’s success this year is its international players.
Now this may seem blindingly obvious especially given the team’s leading goal-scorer, Fabian Herbers, is German. But the team is comprised of many other internationals that are getting quite a lot of meaningful playing time. Coach Bolowich’s European connections have proven invaluable in importing talent such as Herbers that previous coaches may never have even considered to recruit. Could these internationals be the reason for Creighton’s national success this year?
Indeed a recent study has found that more diverse soccer clubs perform better than less diverse clubs (that study is summarized nicely in this Washington Post article). This theory is apparently confirmed when we look at Creighton’s recent success relative to their team’s diversity. The graph above shows each continent’s playing timing as a percentage of total team minutes played for the years 2007 to 2015 (the only years statistics were available). There is a notable percentage change in internationals playing time after the 2011, when Bolowich became head coach.
Diversity was at a low in 2010 when 100% of the team’s minutes were played by North Americans. Non-North American playing time hit a high last season at 47% but is also high this season at 40% (through the first 11 games). One might argue that Mike Paye may not qualify as a true “international” from Africa since he came to the US when he was young but I just categorized every player based on what Creighton’s roster site had listed as their hometown (and country).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, local talent has not played as big of a factor as past years since Bolowich took over the reins. As the recruiting net was cast into international waters, the number of native Nebraskans playing on the squad has dropped precipitously. In both last year and this season, reserve goalkeeper Michael Kluver has been the only Nebraskan to get any playing time. Some would argue that this is a necessary price to pay to play at the top of the game.